THE LOONIEST COMPANY EVER A NEW BIOGRAPHY PAINTS THE MARS CANDY CZARS AS DYSPEPTIC AND DYSFUNCTIONAL. DESPITE IT ALL, THEY MANAGED TO BUILD AN EMPIRE.
(FORTUNE Magazine) – Ever have one of those days when you think the people you work for are just plain nuts? Relax. If there's one point that Jan Pottker demonstrates in Crisis in Candyland (National Press, $23.95), it's that Mars Inc. takes the cake for management looniness.
Many people are familiar with this company's products: M&M's, Kal Kan pet foods, Uncle Ben's rice. And Mars, which tops $12 billion in sales, is known for having a strong organization with top-flight professionals.
But that's where this company parts company with the rest of the world. Mars is a corporate hermit, run by two brothers, Forrest Jr. and John Mars, whose penchant for privacy makes Howard Hughes look like a socialite and whose management style would give Stephen Covey the shakes. You are not likely to see a picture of a Mars executive in any publication. Such publicity seeking is grounds for dismissal.
Crisis in Candyland isn't so much a book about business as a tale of how three generations of dysfunctional family relationships have set the tone and character of a huge multinational company. It sort of goes like this: Frank Mars, a three-time loser in business, finally scores big in 1923 with the invention of the Milky Way bar. Throughout his life he ignores his son Forrest, who, it turns out, has much better business acumen than his father. Frank sends Forrest to Europe, with rights to the candy bars, to get rid of him. Forrest works like a demon and eventually buys control of the old man's business after his death.
In the process of getting even with his father, Forrest constantly harangued and embarrassed his own two sons, Forrest Jr. and John. From what we can gather, they, in turn, spared their children that treatment. Instead, they verbally abused Mars employees in a seemingly ceaseless effort to prove their worth to their father. This company doesn't need McKinsey as much as it does Freud.
The real crisis alluded to in the book title is that over the past couple of years Mars's share of the candy market has declined significantly. Although this trouble is laid on the doorstep of the family, we really don't learn much about the inner workings of the company. Crisis in Candyland also suffers from lack of narrative. There are precious few quotes to flesh out the principal characters. The book is mostly a collection of family anecdotes--some quite familiar by now.
But that's enough to carry things along. Besides, we can't really blame the author for this weakness. As any journalist who has covered Mars knows, interviews with family members or company officers come along about as often as Halley's comet and are far less illuminating.
- Bill Saporito